NEW ORLEANS, LA — The Gulf Seafood Institute joined six other Gulf of Mexico seafood industry organizations in endorsing Texas-native turned North Pacific Fishery Management Council Executive Director Chris Oliver for the open position of Assistant Administrator for NOAA Fisheries.
In a letter to Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, Jr., the fleet of Gulf supporters called Oliver “a motivated and talented leader with a passion for bridging divides among diverse fishing interests. Those qualities would benefit the “notoriously complex” environment in the Gulf of Mexico.
The Gulf-based groups to endorse Oliver include: Alabama Charter Fishermen’s Association (Orange Beach, AL), Charter Fishermen’s Association (Corpus Christi, TX), Clearwater Marine Association (Clearwater, FL), Gulf of Mexico Reef Fish Shareholders’ Alliance (Galveston, TX), Louisiana Restaurant Association (Metairie, LA), Southeastern Fisheries Association (Tallahassee, FL) and The Gulf Seafood Institute, (New Orleans, LA).
“Federal fisheries in the Gulf of Mexico…involve a host of competing user groups, including our hardworking commercial harvesters, professional charter boat operators, a growing private angling community, and of course, a skyrocketing tourism and consumer economy dependent on the long-term health of them all,” the letter stated.
“It is imperative that NOAA Fisheries be guided by an experienced Administrator with a solid track record of uniting these varying interests with a spirit of positivity and mutual respect,” the letter stated.
Oliver currently serves as Executive Director of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council (NPFMC), where he’s worked since 1990, first as a Plan Coordinator, then as Deputy Director, and as Executive Director since 2002. As the top executive there, he is responsible for all administrative and operational aspects of the Council process, and is lead staff for legislative and international issues.
He hails from Rockport, Texas, and earned a BBA in Business Management, and a Master’s degree in Fisheries Sciences, both from Texas A&M University. Prior to his work in Alaska, he worked primarily on Gulf of Mexico shrimp fishery management issues in hand with the Gulf Council, and spent 30 years in Texas. His deep ties to the Gulf remain, with much of his family still residing in the region.
The group’s letter acknowledges Oliver’s significant effort in achieving economic prosperity in the Alaska fishery, which is America’s most productive. Under his 12-year tenure as Executive Director, the NPFMC balanced competing interests to become the most sustainably managed and productive fishery in the world, accounting for more than half of all seafood landed in the United States and two-thirds of America’s seafood exports, the letter explains.
In a brief interview, Oliver acknowledged those achievements are rooted in science, data and research successes that seem to elude the Gulf.
“We’re fortunate not only to be blessed with a thriving eco-system but we have, for however it’s evolved, the best science underpinning of any fishery in the country, if not the world,” Oliver said. “I have a very pragmatic perspective in that regard.
“Those discussions and differences of opinion in the Gulf that haven’t been resolved over the years, a lot of it stems from a lack of basic scientific information about the status and distribution of the stocks,” he said.
“That gets back to one of my mantras about this, and I had this conversation when I met with Secretary (Wilbur) Ross — I think in the current budget climate, we’ve got to have a little bit of refocus toward the core science and management mission. A lot of these issues can be resolved by simply having better information on where the resource is and distribution of it.”
That’s a key issue, and a discussion that tracks well with several of the letter signatories, including Southeastern Fisheries Association.
“Money is short, but if we collaborate with the people who really know how to catch the fish, we could move forward with this research,” said SFA’s executive director, Bob Jones. “I would ask him: Are you willing to implement cooperative research between the experts (commercial fishermen) and your science centers? Because it really is all about the science, the resource and the allocation.“
Soft data has hampered the red snapper fishery for years, and Oliver knows that’s a socially energized issue in the Gulf: “I’ve even heard some folks characterizing this current appointment process as a recreational versus commercial fishery perspective and I think that’s unfortunate. That creates an unnecessarily negative atmosphere right up front.”
“Dealing with the red snapper issue (in the Gulf) I know is going to be one of the biggest challenges to that job, and, again, coming into it with some kind of rec versus commercial perspective from the get-go would be very counter productive. I hope folks would realize that I would come into it without a bias either way in that.”
“Personally I’m an avid sport fisherman and as council executive director for all these years…one of the things we have to be is objective and neutral and I don’t view myself as a commercial advocate over recreational interests. We certainly have large industrial commercial fisheries (in Alaska) but we also have a lot of small boat fisheries, a lot of sport fisheries, and one of the strengths I think I would bring into the position – and I hope the administration thinks is a strength — is the fact that I don’t have any bias toward one sector or another.”
Meanwhile, Captain Mike Colby of the Clearwater Marine Association zeroed in on the key national issue awaiting Oliver.
“The most challenging issue we believe he faces is to maintain the parts of the Magnuson-Stevens Act as it moves toward reauthorization,” Colby said.
The Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (Magnuson-Stevens Act) is the primary law governing marine fisheries management in U.S.
“There’s a big move to redo things like the Annual Catch Limits (ACLs) and rebuilding timelines, which are the very “You can tweak things here and there, but if you make wholesale changes to the law, that’s going to have significant impact on the resource. We’ve got to keep the parts of Magnuson that work well and have rebuilt the fishery.”
Oliver agrees the real sweat and results are in the fine points and details.
“Through my participation on the Council’s Coordination Committee the last 15 years I’ve gotten to know enough about other regions to realize there’s lots of devil in the details,” Oliver said. “To come up with solutions, you’ve got to really know those details.”
The appointment is anticipated in coming months, though the exact timing is uncertain as much of the Trump Administration is still taking shape. Oliver is thought to be the leading candidate of a remaining slate of two. You can read the endorsement letter in its entirety here: C. Oliver NMFS – Gulf Fisheries letter 4-13-17